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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Luz Verde - Seduce and Destroy


Now that I have your attention . . . where the hell have I been?  You may wonder, or not.  I could say I have been in restaurant reviewing purgatory after that little episode last June in Le Servan when I knocked a half litre bottle of water to the floor, whereupon it shattered into a thousand pieces, leaving a piercing sound in my ears to this day.  Don't blame me.  I can't help it if the Moose dragged me to the Vodka Lab around the corner on rue St. Maur where we found ourselves at the mercy of a benevolent entrepreneur who for some reason deemed us test subjects for tasting trials of every unknown variety of Russian vodka on the planet.  Or it may have been that faux pas I repeatedly commit when I wander into Paris cafes during my photo treks demanding a glass of red wine without first asking what they have to offer by the glass.  I could go on.  But I won't.

At any rate, I am back to seduce and destroy.  Actually, that sounds good, but my mission here is not so much to destroy the typical template for Paris restaurant reviews which, however accurate, are BORING, but to guide, admire, discover, and recommend in as casual a manner as whatever my relative state of sobriety allows.  I digress.

I've been doing a lot of eating in the months since my Clown Bar review.  (Was that really in 2017?).  I hope you were sitting down when you read that.  To precise (as we French are fond of saying), eating in restaurants.  But lately I've been getting into the lunch circuit and have much to relate.  I begin by Luz Verde, a small taqueria on quiet rue Henry Monnier, a couple blocks walk from the not-so-quiet center of Pigalle.  At Luz Verde you will find the BEST GUACAMOLE IN PARIS.  Would I joke about something as momentous as that?  I know what you're thinking.  Best guacamole in Paris - ben, that ain't saying much.  That is true.  The bar for good guacamole in Paris is low.  Very low.  Typically, what you will find in French Mexican restaurants is a cup of tasteless, creamy avocado accompanied by a small basket of stale nacho chips.  Let me tell you something about nacho chips in Paris restaurants.  They are ALWAYS stale.  I can't for the life of me explain why that is the case, but trust me on that.  Which is one reason the guacamole at Luz Verde is worth the visit.  On the two occasions I tried the dish, a full basket was brought to the table bearing nacho chips that were relatively fresh.  Not only that, the guacamole was somewhat chunky, very tasty, and arrived in a large bowl accompanied by refried red beans, large coriander leaves (the closest thing to cilantro you will find in a Paris restaurant), tomato, red pepper, onion, and lime.  Certainly in the same ballpark as the many dishes of genuine guacamole I sampled during my various visits to Monterrey, Mexico.  Have a look.

Luz Verde's guacamole: a meal in itself, and the dish is yours for €9

Luz Verde also has received strong positive reviews for its tacos and I can't disagree there.  During my first visit I opted for the tacos de poulet duo (€7) pictured below.  The second visit, I gave the tacos de gambas a shot (€9).  Fresh and tasty, with one big gripe.  You cannot pick these babies up.  Believe me, I tried.  The first time, I got the message and quickly shoved them into my half eaten bowl of guacamole.  This was a mess - the 'destroy' part of the title (see photo), and probably a good thing that there were few in the restaurant at that point in the afternoon to observe my uncouth eating behavior.  Things were worse with the gambas - don't get me wrong, the gambas were large and seductive, so much so that I quickly tried to bring the taco to my mouth and half of its contents quickly fell onto the table.  I quickly scooped everything up and shoved what I could salvage into the guacamole bowl.  I'm telling you, once I obtained a small cup of hot sauce from the waiter and threw that in with the rest of the slop, the meal was excellent.  Etiquette begone.

Chicken tacos before I tried to eat them.

One of the aforementioned chicken tacos several minutes after I tried to pick it up to eat.

One drawback to Luz Verde at lunch is the limited carte, lacking some of the more intriguing items available at night, such as guindillas, poulpe, and couteaux al ajilla.  Maybe I just got there too late in the afternoon, but one advantage to that is this (see below).

And this:

Because if you go at night - no reservations taken - you can expect this:

Because Luz Verde is a popular night spot for the denizens of Pigalle, with a nice list of cocktails to slake one's thirst:

I slummed it with glasses of serviceable Tramonte at €5 a pop during my two lunch visits.

Voila.  Finally a decent Mexican restaurant in Paris.

I'll tell you more about some good Paris lunches and lament some bad ones in a subsequent post.  Unless I suffer a return trip to restaurant reviewing purgatory.  But I will be back.

Luz Verde kitchen - seduce & destroy
24 rue Henry Monnier
75009 Paris
tel: 01 70 23 69 60
website:  www.luzzverde.fr

Cost of lunches described above: €21 (one glass of wine, chicken tacos) and €28 (two wines, gambas tacos).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Clown Bar - How Do You Say 'Clown' In French?

Source: https://www.eater.com/2016/10/19/13314418/paris-clown-bar-veal-brain
The answer is 'clown' (pronounced 'cloon'), but you probably already knew that.  But I already used the obvious 'no clowning around' as the sub-heading of a previous post (Bondi, same neighborhood) and I hate to be redundant.

This was mine and Co.'s second visit to the much touted Clown Bar on rue Amelot in the 11th for dinner.  Co. couldn't remember the previous visit at all.  I could remember exactly where we sat, but nothing we ate, but then again, that must have been 4 or 5 years ago and my memory cells have decayed a lot since then, or, the food just wasn't that memorable.  No doubt, a combination of the two.

In fact, we had no intention to return to the Clown.  Earlier in the week I reserved online for one of our favorites, restaurant Louis and then, memory cells again, I completely let slip the fact that I never received an email confirmation from the restaurant.  So perhaps it wasn't surprising when I called Louis (the restaurant) on Friday afternoon to confirm, gave my name, and received the dreaded response, 'Who?'  I was then informed what an ignoramus I am for thinking that I could get a reservation outside of the 10 days to 2 weeks window.  Ah yes, I remember the good old days when Louis was relatively obscure.  But I take full responsibility for my blunder.  Anyway, faced with the 'we're going out to dinner tonight' mojo and no place to go, Co. fumbled through her recent Telerama clippings, called Clown, and they were kind enough to offer us a Friday evening table if we got there in one hour, which we did.

BORING.. I know, you probably could care less about all this crap and just want me to get down to the business at hand - dinner at Clown.  So I'm not going to leave you on the edge of your seat any longer - the food was, uhm, 'meh'?  No, that's a bit unfair - the food was pretty good, but I still don't get the effusive praise.  For example, according the The Eater Guide to Paris (the eater guide to Paris?  yikes, what a name):

 'Clown Bar Is the Most Thrilling Restaurant in Paris. You won't find anything more  exciting, innovative, fun, or (literally) cerebral.'
Well, I wasn't inordinately thrilled, excited, or bowled over by innovation and raucous fun during our visit, although the carte did get a little cerebral (literally), with it's calf brain entree offering. As I prefer to use my brain rather than to eat brain, maybe that diminished my 'fun' experience.  No brain, no fun?  Pretty good title for a spunky little punk song.  I will file that one for later.  Nonetheless, I've been seeing many 'Eater'-like accolades over the past year lavished on the Clown, and I'm still not sure why.

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult to dissociate the eating experience from some element of the dining experience that lingers in one's cerebral hemispheres (literally) long after the meal has ended.  I remember having a meal at one casual bistro that I had frequented a couple of times, but this time, plans having already been made, I happened to read a review in which a diner complained of a mouse skittering around the restaurant floor during his meal and the waiter simply pooh poohing the diner's complaint.  So I'm sure my reaction to the food would have been more favorable if I hadn't been constantly looking around my feet for any evidence of rodents (it didn't help that my table was shoved into a corner toward the back where mice are no doubt more prone to congregate).  Now, mind you, the Clown had no such rumored rodent problem, at least that I am aware of, so let's not go down that route.  However, there was - literally - a quartet of elderly Cuban/Miami denizens sitting at the table next to us extolling the merits of the Donald (the clown president, literally).  I won't get into the irrelevant details, and our interaction was cordial enough, but as I said, it's kind of difficult to dissociate those sorts of things from the meal itself.

Source: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/

The bistro/bar is a real throwback to Cirque d’Hiver circa early 20th century, with circus-inspired decorations and painted tiled walls.  But other than atmosphere, don't expect a Ringling Bros. experience (hell, they're defunct now anyway).  English spoken here - by patrons and servers (Americans?)  Given the quality of the food - pretty good, not really great - I found the carte to be somewhat over-priced, including the wine list, which only had a couple of choices of reds for under 40 euros.   36€ for a turbot filet with asparagus seemed pretty unreasonable to me and I didn't like the fact that no menu was available.  Granted, the dishes were rather copious and, rare for French bistros, the main courses each came with an accompanying side dish.

The nitty gritty - click to enlarge

As for our choices from the carte above, read on...

Co. chose the crab meat wrapped in beet (15€), a tasty starter, if not extraordinary.  I opted for the moderately-priced (16€)  black rice with fava beans and tuna (the latter veritably missing).  Black is my favorite color, I must admit, and that includes pasta and rice.  This dish was good, but ala the crab/beet appetizer, hardly spectacular and my attention wavered after 4 or 5 forkfuls.

Crab in beets entree

Black rice with feve and disappearing tuna entree

Two hefty main plates followed - pigeon for Co., with accompanying courgette (24€) and, for me, a rather intriguing canard/foie gras pairing with an unimaginative salad and vinaigrette on the side (30€).

Co.'s pigeon, as seen from the other side of the table, wine and bread in foreground.

Pithiviers de canard et foie gras, dates and yuzo included

Our desserts provided a refreshing finish to the meal, but lacked the thrilling, exciting, innovative fun that Eater site had promised: lemon tarte for yours truly and a crème brûlée with banana ice cream for my counterpart, both reasonably priced at 10€.

Tarte au citron with flowers

What was left of Co's crème brûlée by the time I got my camera focused.

For a warm end of Spring Friday evening last minute selection, it's hard to complain about dinner at The Clown Bar.  But for what is becoming a Paris institution, the restaurant had a distinctly ex-pat feel about it (it takes one to know one, I guess).  And for the second time out of two visits, I was left with the impression that the meal fell short of what we expect from our favorite dining venues in Paris.  We could have spent roughly the same amount (148€ including a 33€ pretty decent bottle of Roussillon) for a much more rewarding culinary experience at our preferred choice (Louis), which left a bittersweet taste in my mouth as we hit the pavement and began our walk back toward Republique.

TEL: 01 43 55 87 35
Web: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/
Closed Mon/Tues.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Aux Plumes - Intriguing Discovery

I've long been intrigued by the tiny little storefront restaurant that I passed numerous times on rue Boulard in the 14th.  This is for a couple of reasons: I was always hungry at the time, that time essentially being lunchtime, and the place looked so nondescript from the outside that I figured that something interesting must be going on inside.  A nameless facade often belies a magical cuisine, and that is what Co. and I discovered during our dinner at Aux Plumes last Friday evening.

Good vibes from the outset - a warm greeting by the hostess and a nice discussion about Spanish wines with the server/sommelier.  The 22 seats were filled pretty quickly, by which time we had already commenced the dégustation of six courses - 3 éntrees + 1 poisson + 1 viande +1 dessert.  Throw in an interesting amuse bouche (rillettes
d'espadon on thinly sliced, buttered pieces of baguette) and you have an incredible deal at 50€ a pop.  I chose one of those Spanish wines that are rarely seen on a French carte, an Aleceno Twelve from the Murcia region (32€), and as promised, it was puissant, corsé, and really, really good.

Aux Plumes is another one of those Paris neo-bistros helmed by an Asian  - in this case, Japanese - chef.  Here you will find behind the counter in the spatially impaired open kitchen in the rear of the restaurant Kazuhiro Fujieda, who previously worked at L'Arpege and Chamarré Montmartre and who not surprisingly infuses his dishes with Asian textures.  Aux Plumes is conveniently located next door to the Desnoyer butcher shop, where Monsieur Kazuhiro gets his meats.  The room itself is minimalist Asian, with bare white walls, wooden tables, and brown leather banquettes.  

Chef Fujieda (Source: http://sortir.telerama.fr/paris/lieux/restos/aux-plumes,30490.php)

The menu changes regularly according to the season and what is fresh in the market that day, but here's a rundown of our meal.

Entree 1 : This was a tantalizing French onion soup, comprised of a portion of red onion and a healthy slab of foie gras.  Aux Plumes had me at the soup. 

Entree 2:  Carpaccio de thon, flowers, red caramelized onion, and cranberry powder - wow.

Entree 3:  Calamar with petit pois, and don't quote me on this, but I think I think that's a cushion of white asparagus cream.

Poisson :  Panga with wild asparagus and chorizo - as good as it looks.

Meat :  Coquelet a la vanille with caramelized Roscoff onions an thin mushroom slices on a bed of green asparagus (this being the season of the asparagus and all)

Dessert:  Mousse de chocolat blanc, mostarda de céleri  rouge et granité de Yuzu.  Need I say more?

If your appetite is smaller, there is a 38€ dinner menu option, and the possibility of an 18€ lunch, which I fully intend to take advantage of the next time I pass 45 rue Boulard around lunchtime.  That lunch has to be one of the best deals in Paris.  Aux Plumes recently received a shout-out from Telerama Sortir, so it should now be tougher to snag a table.  That means you should be sure to reserve a week in advance.  I noticed several people pass the restaurant during our visit who appeared equally intrigued to discover, but once the two small outdoor tables were filled, they were turned away.  Better luck next time. 

Total price for a really terrific dinner: 134.50 (one espresso included)

45 rue Boulard
75014 Paris
tel. 01 53 90 76 22
web:  https://www.facebook.com/Restaurant-aux-Plumes

Tues. - Sat. 12h-14h15 et 19h30-22h30

Springtime in Paris, as seen through the window of Aux Plumes.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Mamagoto - Asian (Con)fusion

Finishing up the year with a five-minute walk from Gare du Nord to Mamagoto.  Normally, Co. and I would be hitting Le Pleine Mer for our traditional end of year plates of salmon and oysters, but the oysterman was so overwhelmed with holiday orders, all the tables were piled high with crates of oysters and unavailable for diners.  You'll have that.

So, I thought, how about we check out this Mamagoto for some gen-u-ine Japanese fusion, n'est pas, virtually in the same neighborhood as the oyster place?  Pourquoi pas? was Co.'s lilting response.  And why wouldn't I expect some original Asiatic fusion cooking?  After all, if you do a Google search for Mamagoto, the restaurant's website link comes up first with the descriptor, cuisine franco nippone.  And right there on the website in big bold letters you will find the following phrase, La 'dinette' Japonaise'.  Imagine, simple little me thinking that there would be some Eastern accents to my anticipated meal.  NOT!

That's right, not.  As in 'Mamagoto is NOT a Japanese fusion restaurant, or 'dinette', whatever the hell that is supposed to imply.  Just call it a restaurant, or bistrot, or place to eat, Jesus H. Christ.  Dinette?  Give me a break.  You want to know why they call it cuisine franco nippone?  I'll tell you.  There's a Japanese chef (Koji Tsuchiya) in the kitchen who, I was so elegantly informed by our server, just may throw in some Japanese spices in some of the dishes, maybe.  Okay, now I know.  And so that you will as well, here's the team, directly from the Mamagoto website.

The interior is minimalist modern/industrial, a nice-sized room with bar, and the staff was decent enough, despite warnings in online reviews about their being more on the cold side.  They did seem to enjoy each other's company more than they did their patrons, but that's only a guess on my part.  The menu is a little perplexing at first, but essentially it boiled down to some snack items ('picorer'), cold plates, hot plates, three choices for sharing, and desserts.  Click on the tiny carte below for more specifics.  By the way, this isn't the carte we had the night of our visit, but it's pretty close.

Even after the explanation it was tough to understand what would be a reasonable number of plates to order, but when in doubt my tack is typically, More!  So we opted for two picorers - the pimientos and the terrine.  Co. wasn't exactly enthralled by the terrine.  As for the pimientos, I haven't had a heaping plate of the peppers since Lisbon and although they were pretty good, I was bored about halfway through.  Copious, though.



I took a cold plate - oysters, deux - and Co. opted for the L'Os à Moëlle.  Big problem with the stuffed bone - undercooked.  You haven't ever heard these words, at least I don't think so, on this blog before, but here they are:  'we had to send the plate back.'  

les huites

L'Os, upon its returned fully cooked

The highlight of the evening was the shared dish, two hefty portions of turbot with carrots.  At 40 euros, I'm glad to say it didn't disappoint.

And we finished, as one is wont to do, with a couple desserts, a chocolate sorbet dish and a millefeuille, the latter of which I preferred even though I'm not really a millefeuille kind of guy.. 

...and the bottle, a 24 euro Julien Ilbert - Pur Fruit du cause cahors:

Don't go to Mamagoto expecting a dazzling Asian fusion experience - expect French cuisine- and maybe your experience will be more satisfying than mine.  It's an interesting place for what it is, another Parisian neobistrot run by a trio of young guys who probably will have moved on in a couple of  years, if not sooner,  to other culinary heights.  Still, the undercooked entree, the 1 euro charge for a carafe d'eau (really?), and that Japanese fusion glitch most likely add up to my not going back.

The grand total for two:  115 euros.

5 rue des petits hotels Paris 10
tel. 01 44 79 03 98
website:  http://www.mamagoto.fr/

Ouvert de 12h00 à 14h30 et de 20h à 23h du Mardi au Vendredi et de 12h à 23h le Samedi

La Vague - Change of Pace, South American Style

You have to admit, much of Faubourg Saint-Martin doesn't make it into many Paris tourist guides.  Walking from the metro, Co. and I passed about 20 hair salons catering to African women - it was Friday evening, and every single one of those coiffeurs were filled to the gills.  Then you have Passage Brady, an alley jam-packed with Indian restaurants leading onto the trendy, cafe/restaurants galore Faubourg St. Denis.  Definitely a melting pot of a neighborhood.  Jammed into a small spot on the otherwise pedestrian Saint-Martin is the little cantina La Vague, a kind of Peruvian/Asiatic concoction. 

This was a pleasant change from our (that would be me and Co.) more typical high gastronomy neobistrots.  More of a fun place, but not exactly fun in the sense of, say, a pillow fight with a trio of nubile 18-year-old babes or, say, waiting four years to hear all those rust belt supporters of Trump say 'gee, uhm, we were really conned.  He really is insane.'  No, maybe fun isn't the correct descriptor.  

The menu options at La Vague are pretty limited, falling essentially into three categories:  les ceviches, les tatakis (dishes built around black angus rumsteak), and les butifarras(Peruvian sandwiches).  There are also some side dishes, including the one we took, causa poulpe (a mound of cream with  kalamatas and poulpe).
In order of the photos, we opted for the Peruvian ceviche (with sebaste fish and tiger milk) (15€), tataki sesame (14€), the butifarras vegetarian (11€), causa poulpe (7€) and two desserts, the carrot cake (7€) and tres leches (7€).

This is the ceiling mobile

Overall, a pretty decent change of pace.  This is probably a better option for lunch or a relatively inexpensive spot to hang out with a few of your pals.  I would have liked to have seen a few poultry dishes on the carte or perhaps a special of the day or two.  My guess is that your meal would get pretty repetitive after a couple visits.  Co. and I had a nice drink beforehand at the cool theater cafe a couple doors up from La Vague.  If you hit the cantina for lunch, you can always take in the beautiful (ahem) sites of the Faubourg Saint-Martin, then pass through the Passage Brady, get a few drinks on Faubourg St-Denis and then hit 52 Faubourg St-Denis for a tapas-oriented dinner.  Hey, whaddaya think I am, a tourist guide or something?

The price for two, including a bottle of Pinot Noir (23€) = 84 euros.  Fair enough.

38, rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin   Paris 10
tel. 09 86 69 80 70
website:  http://la-vague-paris-75010.zenchef.com/

Lundi - Vendredi 12h00 - 15h00 / 19h30 - 23h00
Samedi 12h00 - 15h00
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